Month: May 2014

That Time No One Showed Up For My Junior Cast Auditions – A Reflection On Failure

That Time No One Showed Up For My Junior Cast Auditions
A Reflection On Failure

by Kyle Durbin

That Time Nobody Showed Up For Auditions
by Kyle Durbin

“It’s still early,” my wife told me, as I paced back and forth in the church lobby, peering out the window of the front door intermittently. “It’s five minutes late,” I quickly snapped back, feeling like Noah waiting for the rain. For eight years I had built the theatre ministry of my church from a rag-tag group of enthusiasts to a well-oiled operation that churned out multiple productions a year, including participants of all ages and revenues that had since been used to fund other important ministries in the church. One of the biggest parts of our musical production was the addition of a junior cast of children under the age of 12, and over the past few years, their ranks had grown to double digits, and the benefit of their families ticket sales had afforded some pretty spectacular productions. No doubt “Disney’s Tarzan,” would bring them flocking in like animals to the ark, gorillas to be precise, and I’m talking in groups of seven, the Priestly account, not the mere pairs of the Yahwist (excuse my biblical nerdisms).

Yet, on this Sunday afternoon, the parking lot was all out of apes. “I feel like just sending anyone home if they show up,” I remarked, defeated. After all, how would I do a rehearsal with one child, much less endure the embarrassment of the worst turn out in the history of the theatre program. Then that one child showed up…and I cringed. At least if no one showed up, I could get back to the senior cast and get on with a productive rehearsal. I was faced with a decision, admit defeat or power through business as usual. “We’re just waiting to make sure nobody else is running late…I know I called you guys earlier than usual…” It was a lie, I told the girls mother, but it sounded way better than the truth at that point. Five minutes later another child showed up. I quickly grabbed two of the younger siblings of one of my cast members who happened to be at the church to stand it, just to make it look like somewhat of a group, and we were off.

Over the next three weeks, I rehearsed twice a week with these two children and their parents for 45 minutes a pop. I’m pretty sure we even tricked one of their schoolmates into joining the junior cast by inviting her and her mother to come sing and dance with us as they were leaving our church preschool one day. Through the whole ordeal, I tried my best to appear motivated. Twenty or so fewer cast members than I had anticipated meant an undoubtedly significant decrease in attendance numbers for the show, which meant all the extra money I had put into this production, justified by the guaranteed size of the junior cast, would not possibly be compensated.

As we got closer to opening night, I realized/remembered/finally admitted to myself that I needed to assign someone supervision of these three children as they were most definitely joining us for the show. Heck, they probably knew their songs and dances better than our senior cast did. Luckily, despite losing our former stage manager to college, this production had wound up with the biggest production team we’d ever assembled, sometimes even more eager to help than I had jobs to do. Two of our high school crew members stepped in, and it was if they were born with an innate ability to work with children. Opening night began and we were sold out, not because of the size of our junior cast, but because I had neglected to realize that while I was worrying about how to increase attendance numbers, I had assembled the biggest senior cast and the biggest production crew we had ever had, including more members from outside our congregation than ever, and all these people were very devoted to this production and had friends and family members who wanted to share in this celebration of art and fellowship.

To fill out our junior cast, my wife, Joanna, had borrowed fabric from one of the other junior cast parents and put a last minute gorilla suit together for our son, Harrison. Harrison and the three girls who joined him as baby gorillas shined every single moment they were on the stage. At one point, Harrison even stole the show by taking a banana he was eating on stage with him. Then, about halfway through the first act, I realized that my character was supposed to start a scene by playing with the baby gorillas. My high school crew member responsible for guiding the children kept them in their places for the scene change, and there I was to jump, laugh, and slap hands, gorilla style with every child on stage, to get the scene started. i even got to have a moment holding Harrison, in character, our first performance together!

Because the junior cast was so small, they became pivotal members of each performance, developing their own characters, and even joined the senior cast backstage for warm ups and pep talks. At intermission, the baby gorillas would run out and jump around the set and scenery in what became their own, private, highly animated jungle gym for fifteen minutes. After the production, each parent thanked me and told me that their children couldn’t wait til the next production and that they had suddenly realized a profound love for performing and theatre.

The next day, I was informed that I was being appointed to a new church as a full-time pastor. Unknown to me during those performances, “Disney’s Tarzan,” was my last production with the theatre company I had given a portion of my life to for the last eight years. The following Sunday, this was announced at church, and I was surprised to see one of our new cast members in the congregation. For eight years, Cornerstone Theatre has been an outreach ministry, and while I have had cast members become active in worship and other cast members become active in different ministries of the church, I have never had an entire family join the church. This family has been coming every week since.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely failed in my goal of bringing in the biggest junior cast our theatre ministry had ever seen. But now that the stories been written, it doesn’t feel so much like a failure. The lives of four young children were impacted positively for years to come. An eight year goal of welcoming a family into fellowship with a body of Christ has been realized, and that cast member? She’s taking over the summer camp portion of our theatre ministry now that I’m leaving. Another cast member who took a break from his full-time job as bartender and nightlife enthusiast to join our production just informed me that he had completed his first college course in over three years and was going to get back into theatre.  And after raising Harrison through four different productions, I actually got to act on stage with him. Maybe it’s not so ironic that our Savior often refers to himself as the title of Harrison’s favorite song from the show, “Son of Man.” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 10, “So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. 10 Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.” I can tell you exactly what it feels like. I can tell you exactly what failure feels like. But I can also tell you, that failure is never the end. Amen.

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“Heaven Is For Real,” And The Movie Is Pretty Good Too

“Heaven Is For Real,” And The Movie Is Pretty Good Too
by Kyle Durbin

This past weekend, I did what thousands of youth pastors probably did a month earlier, during Holy Week or Easter weekend; I took my youth group to see “Heaven Is For Real.” Admittedly, I did so more out of a presumed obligation to expose my youth to a Christian film making national headlines more than any true, personal desire to witness the film. After all, this was the same movie based on the book of the same name that I once snidely referenced in a sermon about Christian misconceptions of heaven. Let’s face it, a struggling preacher facing opposition from his congregation and experiencing serious financial problems suddenly strike it rich to the tune of millions of dollars over his son’s not-surprisingly very westernized visions of a Christian heaven…and we’re NOT supposed to think this isn’t more than just a coincidence?

And so, that was the attitude that I approached the film with (unbeknownst to anyone else, as I had already planned an unbiased bible study to follow up our viewing). The film I saw, however, was nothing like my expectations. Was there a clear evangelical purpose? Certainly, but nowhere near the offensive and divisive levels of “God’s Not Dead.” Did one of the characters have some real, dramatic internal struggles that ultimately lead to a “come to Jesus,” moment? Of course, but no where near as dark and plot-usurping as in “Noah.” Instead, what “Heaven Is For Real” delivered was a light, family drama that posed more questions than answers, and offered simple glimpses of what heaven looks like through the eyes of a naive four-year old.

Todd Burpo, the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church, delivers a sermon at the end of the film that pretty much summarizes the main theme of the movie. Actually, his sermon notes summarize it even better. “Only faith can open our eyes. God is love. On earth as it is in heaven.” Aside from the fact that no pastor’s sermon notes are only three sentences short, Pastor Burpo was almost spot on here. I would add that grace and the Holy Spirit play a pretty big role in the whole “eye-opening” experience, but the other two? They’re huge parts of what I believe as a Christian, and definitely not what I expected to hear coming into this film.

1 John 4:8 tells us that “The person that doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love,” (CEB). In the film, Pastor Burpo takes this concept and applies it to traditional concepts of heaven. Does God love any one person more than another? Can heaven really be heaven if our loved ones are not there? These are only a couple of the questions raised in the context of the movie, from a parishioner mourning over the loss of her military son, to when Colton tells his father that he spoke with his possibly atheist grandfather in heaven. If God is love, regardless of how we may differ in our responses, these are questions that can not be ignored, and “Heaven Is For Real,” offers a gentle exploration of each.

The Lord’s prayer is prayed frequently throughout the film, and knowing the amazing feeling our son Harrison brings to us when he prays those words with my wife and I every night, I can tell why. One of those lines, found in the Gospel of Matthew, reads “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10, NRSV). Now, I’ve always felt the punctuation was a little off in our english translation here, and that it should read, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” but that’s besides the point. Todd Burpo was clearly looking at this (or a similar translation) when he wrote his sermon (or his three notes) because he had just, “on earth as it is in heaven,” with that word, “earth,” specifically underlined. Well, that’s kind of the point I was making with my punctuation alteration anyways, so I’m down with this little emphatic line segment. As Christians, we are not called to sit back, proud and content that we have been promised a heavenly afterlife. As God is, we too should be concerned with making the world we live in a little bit more like heaven, so that more and more people can experience the hope that is in Christ Jesus. This is why theologians talk so much about how the Kingdom of God is both a present reality and a future hope. This is why Jesus Christ, himself, talked about both abundant and eternal life. In the final sermon from the film, Pastor Burpo sums this up nicely saying, “Haven’t we already seen heaven? In the first cry of a baby? The courage of a friend, the hands of a nurse or a doctor, the love of a mother or a father?…Is heaven for real?…for me the answer is yes.” Amen Pastor Todd.

Ultimately, “Heaven Is For Real,” will not please everybody, partly because it offers a message that is pleasing to anybody. It will not be evangelical enough for some conservatives. It will not be universal enough for some liberals. It will not answer enough questions for some fundamentalists and it will not pose enough questions for some radicals. And I still can’t say my opinion about the premise of the book has entirely changed. What “Heaven Is For Real,” the film, does, however, is speak of a God who love is bigger than any of our fears, and a Christ that offers a hope for all people. For some people, that hope, or at least part of it, is heaven, and for us, that heaven is very real.